When we think about heart health, we often think of risk factors like cholesterol, high blood pressure and body weight. But happiness (or unhappiness) can absolutely contribute to your heart health. A recent study suggests that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic. Sounds good doesn't it? Here are five ways you can experience a healthy heart for yourself:
1. Happiness = less stress
Stress is a major issue for heart disease risk. A study reported that Type A personality and stress appear to be moderate risk factors for coronary heart disease in women as well as in men. Approximately twice as many cardiovascular events occurred in ‘type A' women 35 to 64 years old as in ‘type B' women of the same age group.”
2. Happiness = better sleep
Often we toss and turn when we're worried and unhappy. Regularly getting less than 8 hours sleep is a big deal when it comes to heart health. A large US study found that for women who had less than five hours of sleep per night on average, they were almost 30% more likely to have high cholesterol than women who were getting seven hours.
3. Happiness = better relationships
When we're happy, it's usually a sign that our relationships are going well. When we're happy we usually have more to give others, and giving in turn makes us happy. When we're happy we're able to better deal with conflicts, and have patience with others. Good relationships (with our friends, family and lovers) help us to feel supported and loved. A 2014 study states that “social relationships are an important aspect of a person's social environment that can protect against a wide range of chronic conditions and facilitate recovery from disease.”
4. Happiness = better food choices
When we're feeling sad we tend to look for ways to make ourselves feel better. Food is a very effective way of doing this. The fact that there's even a term for “comfort” foods shows just how universal this concept is. Our brain responds positively in particular to sweet and/or fatty foods, so we often seek these foods out in times of unhappiness. When we're happy on the other hand we don't need food to improve our emotions, and it's easier to choose healthier foods that are nourishing. We may still enjoy treats from time to time, but it's from a place of self-love and appreciation rather than trying to fill a void.
5. Happiness = exercise
This one is a bit of a case of the chicken and the egg – what comes first? Does happiness lead to exercise, or does exercise lead to happiness? Well, probably both. Exercise is a wonderful way to flood the body with ‘feel-good' chemicals. And in addition to this it helps us to manage our weight and keep our heart healthy. Exercise is the secret pill that so many of us seek. We just need to work out how we individually can keep it in our lives on a regular basis.
Can we increase our happiness? An article in Future Cardiology says yes.
According to Huffman, “it appears that approximately 40% of happiness is directly under one’s own control, and specific interventions and habits can be used to increase the frequency and intensity of positive emotions in one’s life. Interventions that appear to be effective in the cultivation of positive experiences include exercise, increasing social support and meditation.”
We often say that the most important thing in life is to be happy. And I couldn't agree more. I think it should take top priority, and I hope you do too. Wishing you a life of health and happiness!